Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia urged U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets Tuesday to have affection for the Constitution they will swear to defend upon entering military service.
Scalia said in address at the academy in New London, Conn., that the Constitution's role in shaping the structure of government and its endurance set the United States apart from other countries, and it deserves the same level of attachment that people once showed for it in American life.
"It deserves your affection and your oath," Scalia told the auditorium packed with cadets in dress blue uniforms.
Scalia, 78, also spoke of his own experience attending a military high school in New York City and said in his experience U.S. service academies, like the Coast Guard Academy, do more to foster moral formation and fidelity to duty than other colleges. One of his nine children attended the Military Academy at West Point.
He spoke in particular about the importance of courage.
"The defining virtue of a soldier is courage. What chastity is to a nun or humility is to a monk or wisdom is to a judge, courage is to a soldier," he said.
Scalia, who was appointed to the nation's highest court in 1986 and is currently its longest-serving justice, met with cadets in small groups earlier in the day and attended a dinner in his honor as part of a fellowship program that brings political, military and industry leaders to the academy.
Scalia said the U.S. Constitution is unique compared to those of other countries in its separation of the executive branch from the legislative branch and its creation of two chambers of Congress with equal strength to keep in check a legislative branch that represents the real threat of tyranny in a democracy.
"Most countries do not have a constitution like ours, one that is so venerable, that has so much respect," he said.
He also fielded questions from cadets, including one who asked where he likes to go to think. He said he gets thinking done while driving, and at home.
"As I'm dozing off to sleep, I think 'Hey, that could be a great dissent!" he said.
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